RADIO AND TELEVISION
By John Crosby*
(Copyright, 1951, New York Herald Tribune Inc.)
THE UNITED NATIONS GETS PUSHED AROUND
Television, it is pretty generally agreed, came of age last summer when it broadcast to all the cities on the cable the Jacob Malik debates with Warren Austin and Sir Gladwyn Jebb in the United Nations. These broadcasts, in point of drama, historic importance and popular interest, were easily the outstanding contributions made by television in 1950. For the first time television began to live up to its promise as a great mass educational communications medium.
But that was last summer, when the sponsors had pretty generally taken to the beaches and when there wasn't much on the air anyway. This winter, with well-heeled sponsors all over TV, the situation has changed radically. On January 30, around 10.15 p.m. the United Nations Political Committee took a vote on the United States resolution branding Communist China an aggressor. The resolution passed by a vote of 44 to 7, which was the No. 1 News story in most papers the next morning.
WNYC, the New York City municipal station, carried the debate up until 10 o'clock, when it went off the air, ABC cut in to carry the actual vote. No other radio and no television stations carried any of the debate after 7 o'clock. The U.N., which has its own facilities, broadcast the session to Europe, and the broadcast was available to any local radio or TV stations that wanted it. None did. The networks were too busy carrying "Rate Your Mate", an audience participation show; "Big Town", which is full of tall talk about the responsibilities of journalism; a crime program called "Danger", "The Amateur Hour" and a lot of other trifles which have bankrolls attached to the other end of them.
As far as television is concerned, the United Nations has been a stepchild all winter. Actually the U.N. has been broadcast on one or several of the TV networks almost every day. But you'll have a terrible time finding it. At the request of the networks, newspapers have stopped listing the U.N. broadcasts. The networks, it seems, don't want to make up their minds until the last minute and don't want to be tied down in the event that a commercial program shows up.
However, if they have nothing else on the agenda, the TV networks will broadcast the United Nations and then take credit in their program logs for performing a conspicuous public service. This will be displayed to the Federal Communications Commission if and when any embarrassing questions about public service are asked. As long as the public is kept in the dark as to where and when the U.N. can be heard, the service to them is a doubtful one.
The situation will get worse as time goes on. Right now, there are still stretches of unsponsored time on daytime television. Eventually this will be gobbled up and then the United Nations or Congress or conceivably even the President will have great difficulty elbowing the soap companies out of the way long enough to get any sort of message on the air.
Just a week or so ago Justin Miller, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, appeared at the F.C.C. hearings in Washington to oppose the reservation of 20 per cent of television channels for educators. Judge Miller declared that he was heartily in favor of television being used as an educational medium, but he felt commercial licensees could do it better.
This is hardly the point. There's no doubt but that commercial broadcasters, with their know-how and facilities, could do a whale of a job of education by television. But WILL they do it, if Procter & Gamble is offering cash money for a soap opera? "The kind of education that has been done already in this medium by commercial licensees is very impressive", said Judge Miller, who went on to cite as a particularly glorious example "the now-famous U.N. telecasts". Well, they were impressive as long as they lasted. But they didn't last very long.
The New York Herald Tribune, February 11, 1951.
(Reprinted by Permission)
* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.